Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.
This is the second installment in a series of posts introducing readers to student employees who make important contributions to the work of Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features student assistant Alex Williams, who started working in Spencer’s Public Services unit in Spring 2019.Alex is an undergraduate majoring in creative writing with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies; she is graduating from KU in Spring 2023.
What does your job at Spencer entail?
I am a Public Services student employee, so my job consists of retrieving materials from our stacks to bring to patrons using the Reading Room, manning the reception desk, and returning or shifting materials in the stacks.
Why did you want to work at Spencer Research Library?
A few years ago, my first-year seminar class took a tour of Spencer Research Library. The curator leading our tour, Elspeth Healey, mentioned the library would be hiring soon and I left my name and contact information. I worked as a library aid in high school and was intrigued by the variety of materials held at Spencer.
What has been most interesting to you about your work?
The variety of patrons that come into the library and hearing about their research projects. We get people who are local to Lawrence looking at regional history and then we’ll have someone from another country looking for Special Collections materials. There is always a chance to learn something new about Spencer when new patrons come in.
What part of your job do you like best?
I love working in the stacks. It’s fun the browse through the stacks and look at the different materials we have. Whether it’s putting back items or moving in newly processed materials, I just find it really fun to see everything. Occasionally, after I have completed all my work, I’ll make a little scavenger hunt game for myself and see how many different editions of Moby Dick or Sherlock Holmes I can find in Special Collections. The science fiction collection is another area I frequently investigate. I may even be doing my own research project with the sci-fi materials in the future.
What piece of advice would you offer other students thinking about working at Spencer Research Library?
This seems like a very basic piece of advice: ASK QUESTIONS. I don’t mean just to the supervisors. Ask the patrons about they’re research projects. Ask the curators about classes, exhibits, or collection areas. Not only does it help you engage with the collections, but it creates community. I think that’s why I enjoy Public Services so much because I get to interact not only with the Spencer’s materials but the individuals who utilize them.
The Bruce McKinney collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds many pieces of LGBTQIA+ materials and memorabilia. McKinney was a Kansas activist for gender and gay rights. His collection of papers ranges from pamphlets for rallies and centers for queer individuals all over the country to stickers and pins.
For example, McKinney’s papers document the work of the Wichita, Kansas, LesBiGayTrans Center, an organization with which he worked closely.
Some items in the McKinney collection highlight the history of the LGBTQIA+ community at the University of Kansas. The documents below focus on LesBiGay Awareness Week events held in 1995.
Additionally, McKinney’s papers includes information to help learn more about the queer community. I was particularly interested in the information written on bisexuality and even a paper about how to defend homosexuality in instances where individuals use the Bible against them.
Some of the more fun things to look at were the many different bumper stickers that McKinney saved!